Art is All About Talent, Not Skill (& Other Harmful Myths About Artists)
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Society has certain ideas about what makes a person an artist, but these concepts can be downright toxic. Here are 4 harmful myths about artists that are downright wrong.
Artists Aren’t Mystical Beings
We all have our ideas about what makes an artist. Society has reinforced certain ideas about how artists live their lives and attain their artistic abilities.
But as I’ve grown into my career as a professional artist, I’ve come to realize that many of these assumptions we hold about artists can be incredibly harmful. In fact, there are several common myths that not only harm artists but completely discourage people from attempting art at all.
4 Harmful Myths About Artists
There are tons of different assumptions and myths about artists, but most of them can be boiled down into four main offenders.
The Talented Artist Myth
One of the most annoying things to hear as an artist is, “You’re so talented!”
But it’s a compliment, right? This comment, while likely well-intended, is annoying because it reinforces the idea that people are just born with innate talent. Some people believe that the heavens above gift precious few mere mortals with the talent of art.
However, that is most definitely not the case. Art, like anything else, is a skill. It is a muscle that you exercise and develop. You have to practice, make mistakes, and practice more to get good at art — no one pops out of the womb making fine art. As children, we all draw stick figures, crude houses, and simple animals. My childhood drawings probably look exactly like your childhood drawings.
Why the Myth is Harmful
The reason this myth is so harmful to artists is that it makes it seem like you either have the gift or you don’t. This discourages people from experimenting with art because they’ve been conditioned to think that they don’t have the gift, so therefore they cannot be an artist. I’ve heard countless people say they’d love to do art but, “I can only draw stick figures,”. These people believe that they simply are not equipped to make art because they believe they don’t have “talent”.
Also, telling an artist that they are talented completely discredits all the hard work they put into developing their craft. Artists practice for thousands of hours, and their skill is hard-won. It can be deflating for an artist to hear all that work chalked up to talent.
The Tortured Artist Myth
We’ve all heard the notion that true artists suffer for their work. From Van Gogh to Kurt Cobain, we have countless examples of treasured artists who experienced mental health problems or addiction. Society tells us that their suffering is what led to all of the incredible art that they created. We are conditioned to believe that all artists (at least, all “true” artists) suffer from demons and turn that suffering into art.
The thing is, that is completely false. Yes, plenty of artists have their struggles. Artists have mental health problems, addiction, depression, and tumultuous relationships that affect their art.
But one does not need to suffer in order to create good art. There are tons of artists who are in therapy, take antidepressants, have overcome addiction, and lead happy and fulfilling lives.
Why the Myth is Harmful
The reason you need to uncouple artists from pain and suffering is that this association is unhealthy for budding and established artists. If an artist believes that getting help for their troubles will take away their artistic edge, then they might avoid getting help. If one believes that taking antidepressants will dry up creative inspiration, then one might not take their medication in an attempt to hold on to their craft.
We need to reinforce the idea that artists can be healthy, happy, and well-balanced people. Artists don’t have to self-impose torture or do drugs in order to create beautiful pieces of art. And even if the pain did result in better art (which it doesn’t), people need to know that their happiness and health are more important. Everyone deserves to be happy and live a good life.
The Starving Artist Myth
The main reason I didn’t want to become an artist when I grew up was that I knew for a fact that artists didn’t make any money. I had seen that trope played out again and again, and I didn’t want to live like a starving artist. So, despite my love of art, I picked a more “reasonable” career. Funnily enough, I still ended up becoming a full-time professional artist and creator, and this career is what feeds my family.
Why the Myth is Harmful
Most kids are discouraged from pursuing art beyond high school because it is seen as an irresponsible career path. Perhaps that was more true in the past when you had to directly sell your art to make an income, but the world has changed now. There are countless ways to earn a living as an artist in some capacity.
We rely on art for tons of things in our lives, such as TV and movies, your clothes, the music on the radio, the furniture you sit on, the games you play… artists touch almost every single thing you use on a day to day basis. There is a huge industry for artists to find their niche, and it is narrow-minded to assume that artists can’t make enough money to survive. Encourage people to make art and there will be an industry for it.
The Perfect Artist Myth
When we see an artist’s work, it’s easy to think that they have the Midas touch — everything they lay their hands on is beautiful, perfect, golden. But no matter how perfect things appear on social media or in interviews, artists are constantly making mistakes. The work you see often has countless hours of mess-ups, rough drafts, and bad ideas. Artists are human, and humans aren’t perfect.
Why the Myth is Harmful
Sometimes people can see artists as something beyond human, something divine. But propping up an artist like that can feed into a vicious cycle where the artist feels like they must always perform perfectly. This can lead to a ton of anxiety, burnout, and feelings of impostor syndrome. This anxiety can even stop someone from ever becoming an artist because they don’t feel like they can achieve perfection.
When we allow artists to come down from that heavenly podium and treat them as fellow human beings, we can see their beautiful flaws, their glorious mistakes. Artists should feel allowed to share their process, warts and all. This encourages more people to try art and feel like the stakes aren’t so high, and it is better for everyone’s mental health.
Art is Mundane, Art is Divine
The biggest way to fight back against negative myths surrounding artists is to remember that artists are just people. They aren’t some gift from God. They don’t have to have some mysterious dark backstory. Artists are just people who live their lives and practice a very cool skill.
And if you want to be an artist, you can! All you need to do is be brave enough to try, and try again.
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Yes!! Totally agree. I’m a sewist who makes clothes as a hobby, and I have always hated the “Your so talented!” I worked hard teaching myself to sew using YouTube and extremely helpful online groups. I didn’t just sit down to a sewing machine and know what to do. I can’t wear most of the first projects I made, and some look like potato sacks with arms, but I learned how to sew, what fabrics work for what and what don’t. And we defiantly need to get rid of the tortured artist trope, and the broke artist one.
Yes!!! These skills are valuable, hard-won, and can be learned by anyone with the gumption to try.